acades have always played an important part in ensuring that a building engages with its environment, and mirror-polished and reflective materials, in particular, provide designers with a once-unimaginable ability to make a building invisible.
This is particularly useful for larger structures that need to blend in with their surroundings and with more young professionals opting for ‘city-centre living’. Plus, with the population of many town centres having doubled in recent years, we are seeing a rise in the development of bigger schools, multi-storey residencies and mixed-use commercial buildings in these areas.
Cladding manufacturers have responded to this by providing more choice in the variety of materials and finishes available to architects. For instance, various lightweight materials that include metallic finishes, different levels of opaqueness, perforations or mesh profiles, can all be used to help a building appear less imposing.
Stainless steel has, of course, been used in architectural design for decades, principally because of its combined benefits of corrosion resistance and appealing aesthetics. However, it is now available in a much wider range of patterns, finishes and textures; with mirror-polished, in particular, proving popular with architects looking to mask a large building.
Take a recent development in Northampton, for example. Due to unprecedented growth in pupil numbers through a combination of increasing birth rate, inward migration and house-building, the local authority identified a need for 25 new primary schools and six secondary schools to be built in the city and across Northamptonshire by 2020.
Responding to this significant requirement, London-based Architecture Initiative identified an old abandoned building on the edge of the city centre as the ideal space for the development of Northampton International Academy, a new state-of-the-art school. Working closely with the local authority, the architects redesigned the old Royal Mail sorting office, a colossal, Brutalist building, originally opened by Princess Diana on her first solo engagement in 1981.
Once described as an eyesore of the city, the structure has been given a new lease of life, and now sits harmoniously within its surroundings, thanks in part to a reflective Proteus SC perforated polished stainless steel facade. This is an engineered panel system that is available in either solid, perforated or expanded mesh formats, and in an extensive range of metals, colours, textures and forms.
The single-skin perforated panels at Northampton International Academy were manufactured from a sheet of 2mm stainless steel, which offers the ideal combination of high strength and a modern, progressive aesthetic.
The stainless steel-clad facade cleverly masks the monolithic appearance of the original structure, whilst not completely hiding this Brutalist piece of architecture. The mirror-polished surface also reflects the skyline giving the impression that the building is smaller than it actually is. Reducing perforation sizes from the middle to the top and bottom edges maximise translucency, whilst acting as a brise soleil, providing shade from solar glare and preventing over-heating to the teaching spaces.
Each panel, installed by Deane Roofing & Cladding, is supported by our aluminium carrier system and ancillary components anchored to a cantilever steel frame from the underlying masonry structure. These allowed the panels to be hooked-on from behind, accentuating the sheer, smooth facade interrupted only by the perforated design.
Careful placement of the small and large perforations allows natural light to pass through and illuminate the interior of the school, whilst the metal facade is rendered virtually invisible from the inside. This innovative approach is just one of the reasons Northampton International Academy was named one of the “boldest” buildings of 2019 by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
With a floor area of 22,250m2 and high ceilings, the academy, run by the EMLC Academy Trust, accommodates over 2220 pupils, including 420 primary, 1500 secondary and 300 sixth formers. The front of the school houses two illuminated signage boxes that indicate separate entrances for primary and secondary pupils, which perfectly complement the mirror-polished cladding panels.
The UK is entering an exciting new era in terms of the aesthetics of our cities. One thing is for sure, reflective cladding has many benefits and is enabling architects and specifiers to meet their vision for transforming existing Brutalist structures.
As such, both single-skin and rainscreen cladding systems will continue to evolve as manufacturers respond to new design trends and the aesthetic preferences of architects and their clients. With a rise in the demand for buildings that complement their surroundings, we expect to see these mirrored and reflective materials specified more.